Getting a Client to Pay

Subject: Getting a Client to Pay
From: Emily Berk <emily -at- armadillosoft -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 24 Oct 2001 23:53:44 -0700

On Wed, 24 Oct 2001 15:51:01 -0700, Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com> wrote:
>... I have a client who's refusing to pay. ... Contractually, the client doesn't have any basis for withholding payment. I can also disprove his claims by our e-mails and other documents. If I went to small claims court, I would almost certainly collect. I've also considered a lien on some equipment I have that belongs to the client. However, both these courses of actions would take time and effort.
>Can anyone on the list suggest any other tactics or resources? What I'm owed isn't very large, and I could walk away from it, but, in the last few years, I've come to dislike backing down from this sort of person; it only encourges them to abuse someone else. ...

You go, Bruce! I have found myself in this situation fairly often of late. It's as if some folks, once they no longer need you, forget that they ever did. I do keep hoping that what comes around goes around, but it doesn't seem to... This may be related to the layoff thread. (Look at those poor folks at Polaroid. The pension checks and insurance payments just abruptly stopped...)

I've been extremely successful going the small claims route, but you are correct, it is very time-consuming. (The staff at small claims was very helpful and supportive, the judge was a sweetie -- at the end, he ORDERED my evil client to drive down to their bank with me -- we took separate cars -- and pay me in CASH -- it was a lot of cash.) But the whole process took many hours - a number of visits to the court at inconvenient times (the client kept postponing) and lasted many months.

I've also had great success and gotten great advice from NWU advocates, both legal advice and letter-writing support. (We decided that the letters would come from me, with a CC to the NWU rep., but the NWU rep. was willing to write them on her letterhead too, if I had preferred.) Still, in each of these cases, it took a few months (about 3) to get paid.

By the way, I work very hard for my clients and I do really good work and I keep GREAT records. My last Evil Client (for whom I had slaved and been treated like a slave for TWO years) claimed that in that last month, I had invoiced for hours not worked. I had emails to the hour during most of those hours. (The rest of the contested time, I had been on-site in meetings with the client SMEs...) I also had cell phone records of managers calling me during these times. (The managers were the ones contesting the hours.)

I understand that keeping a former client's property until being paid is kind of on the gray side of legal. However, I am not willing to spend my time and money returning equipment until I have been recompensed for my previously-rendered services. Usually, under these circumstances, I insist that the former client send a courier to pick the equipment up; I am not usually available to open the door to the courier (since I am frantically searching for other projects) until after I've been paid. I never went the route of a lien. When former (non-paying) clients requested return of their equipment, I just explained my poor financial position, which was the result of their failure to pay, and suggested that a courier carrying my payment check would be WELCOME to carry away any and all equipment belonging to said client.

Lately, I've been asking for a retainer when a project begins. This is hard to insist on when the market is so slow. But I do often get them. Some of my friends now routinely "pre-bill" -- they tack on a few extra hours in the early weeks of their contracts. Then, when a contract ends, they submit the last invoice, but mark it paid. This is dangerous, because they seem less productive in the early weeks. But we've all been burned recently.

Be careful. It's a cold, cruel, capitalist world out there.

Good luck, Bruce.


~ Emily Berk ~
On the web at *** Armadillo Associates, Inc. ~
~ Project management, developer relations and ~
extremely-technical technical documentation that developers find useful.~

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